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Waste collection at encampments gets mixed reviews – Winnipeg Free Press

Waste collection at encampments gets mixed reviews – Winnipeg Free Press
Waste collection at encampments gets mixed reviews – Winnipeg Free Press

A month after weekly garbage collection began at three Winnipeg homeless encampments, thousands of litres of trash have been picked up. But some neighbours aren’t sure the sites are much cleaner.

According to Sherwood Armbruster, interim administrator for the City of Winnipeg, approximately 3,880 gallons (14,687 liters) of trash have been collected from the encampments on Assiniboine Avenue, Waterfront Drive and Maple Street since collection efforts began on June 10.

“We still have to get through the summer, but the first signs are very encouraging, in terms of cooperation… There have already been a number of positive signals and lessons learned,” said Armbruster.

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS

A “no tents” sign has disappeared into the brush along Waterfront Drive, just yards from several tents along the Red River. Since June 10, about 3,880 gallons (14,687 liters) of trash has been removed from the Waterfront encampments and others around the city.

The pilot project to clean up the areas relies on the nonprofit Main Street Project to reach encampment residents. Each week, the Downtown Community Safety Partnership hands out trash bags and returns the next day to pick up the bags after encampment residents have filled them.

Siloam Mission conducts larger cleanups, such as when an entire camp is abandoned. The city helps coordinate the effort and provides $170,000 to cover costs, Armbruster said.

“There are a lot of organizations involved and there are often different points of view and there are bumps in the road, but … everyone wants to see something better,” he said.

Mayor Scott Gillingham said it was too early to say whether the cleanups had made the three encampments cleaner or whether the pilot should lead to permanent trash collection at such sites.

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS

Additional trash bins line the sidewalk along Waterfront Drive, where tents can be seen through the undergrowth.

“I don’t have an answer to that question at this time. Residents who live near camps have expressed concerns about the need for cleanup … (And) we want to make sure that people who live in camps receive dignified treatment and the services they need to meet their needs,” he said.

The mayor stressed that the overall approach to homelessness should focus on providing more housing with social support.

“The waste is a big problem, but the biggest problem is that people live on the river”–Laurie Nealin

One Exchange District resident who lives near the Waterfront Drive camp said she’s not sure the cleanups have made a difference. Laurie Nealin said two of her neighbors spent three hours clearing trash from an abandoned camp last weekend, hauling away several garbage bags full of trash and six shopping carts.

“My question is, why are my neighbors spending three hours doing this backbreaking work when there is supposedly this program?” Nealin said.

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The trash at Fort Douglas Park Camp, seen here in April 2024, is one of the sites targeted by the city’s waste collection program.

She said that in some areas, such as Fort Douglas Park near the Alexander Docks, so much trash is collected that nearby volunteer trash collectors have given up cleaning it up.

“Even if they did something, the next day or three days later it still seems like they weren’t there,” Nealin said.

Several tents were set up in Fort Douglas Park on Wednesday, along with some broken tree branches and torn cardboard boxes.

Nealin stressed that the camps are not safe or healthy for the people living there. There are no basic facilities such as bathrooms. The focus should therefore always be on finding permanent housing for vulnerable people.

“The trash is a big problem, but the biggest problem is that people live on the river… You can’t move forward… if you’re trying to survive on the riverbank,” Nealin said.

An agency charged with collecting waste for the pilot project said staff are actually trying to connect people with housing.

“This (program) focuses on the cleanliness and the immediate care of the camp … But if they are looking for long-term services and supports, then the Clean Slate team (of Downtown Community Safety Partnership) can refer (camp residents) to our other teams … to help with housing, addiction treatment, whatever needs (there are),” said Matt Halchakar, director of operations for the Safety Partnership.

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The pilot project to clean up the areas relies on the nonprofit Main Street Project to reach encampment residents. Each week, the Downtown Community Safety Partnership hands out trash bags and returns the next day to pick up the bags after encampment residents have filled them.

Halchakar said the outreach effort involves asking homeless people questions about housing, not just answering questions when they bring up the topic.

“We will definitely get on it and offer our services, and not wait until it is requested,” he said.

Halchakar said the camp residents have responded well to the garbage collection services and that more frequent collections could be made in the future if garbage continues to pile up.

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The encampment on Waterfront Drive in May 2024. Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham has emphasized that the overall approach to homelessness must focus on providing more housing with social supports.

Kendall Giilck, manager of the Jobs for the Future of Construction program at Siloam Mission, said camp residents requested regular trash pickup services before the program began.

“They indicated that they wanted to clean up the places where they lived, so that they could live in a clean and dignified place,” said Giilck.

She said Siloam has seen a visual improvement at the three locations and has received positive feedback since the pilot program began.

“So far the reports we have seen have been very positive, from the camp residents themselves and from everyone who has spoken (to us) about the sites we have maintained,” Giilck said.

Main Street Project declined to comment.

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Joyanne Pursaga
News reporter

Joyanne is a city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press. She has been a reporter since 2004, but in 2012 she started covering politics exclusively. She has written about city hall and the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg sun before he joined the Free press early 2020. Read more about Joyanne.

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